KABUL - The speaker of Parliament on Saturday swore in eight of nine new members reinstated last month by the country's election commission, as hundreds of police armed with riot gear and machine guns blocked the entrance to the building to keep out members who had been replaced by the commission's ruling.
The sedate swearing-in ceremony was witnessed by only a few dozen Parliament members. Dozens more, however, stood outside in solidarity with the ousted members, in a sign of a widening rift within Parliament, which up to now had appeared mostly unified against President Hamid Karzai's efforts to reshape the legislature.
A spokesman for the president denied that he had ordered extra police officers to block the ousted members, saying that police officials had decided on their own that the extra force was necessary to prevent irate lawmakers from entering the building with guns.
But supporters of the nine disqualified members took it as a signal of the president's willingness to use force to impose the panel's decision.
"This is a coup d' etat by the president against the Parliament," said Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, a lower house member from Helmand Province.
He is part of a coalition that claims to have some 140 members — more than half the lower house — who oppose the election commission's latest ruling. He spoke Saturday morning after a peaceful faceoff between lawmakers and police officers outside the entrance.
"We're not standing just for the nine people who are to be unseated," he added. "Our position is in the last 10 years, with the help of all these foreign and Afghan troops, we are trying to build a democracy, and the president is trying to step on that."
The standoff, which remained peaceful, was the latest in a constitutional crisis that has frozen the legislative process here for much of the last year and shows little sign of easing, even as Mr. Karzai has made moves to try to ease concerns among the international community and appease Parliament members angered over his earlier efforts to overturn election results in a broader way.
Throughout the crisis, Parliament had made repeated shows of unity against the president. But behind the scenes, observers describe an atmosphere of increasing tension and division as many parliamentarians, out of fatigue or self-interest, began signaling they were open to deals in which the nine would go.
The controversy has caused plenty of political theater, including street demonstrations and shaded threats of violence. At one point, a female member who is one of the nine slated to lose her seat threw her veil on a male member who had switched sides, a huge cultural insult tantamount to accusing him of no longer being a man.
On Saturday, police officials denied sending extra officers to the Parliament. But throughout the day, hundreds of police officers, far more than is normally seen here, blocked the main parliamentary compound, and armored Humvees and police trucks with mounted machine guns stood poised along the pathways leading to it.
Dawood Kalakani, a Parliament member from Kabul, defended the show of force, saying it was necessary because of the many opponents who now have their own armed bodyguards. She denied accusations levied by opponents that some members had received favors and monetary compensation in return for supporting the president.
"It is baseless," she said. "We just supported what the Constitution says, and it says the election commission is the only authority to decide the results of parliamentary elections." (Agencies)